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Cory Sandhagen defends UFC Nashville performance: ‘To me, that’s beautiful martial arts’

Umar Nurmagomedov was not the source of Cory Sandhagen’s wrestling-heavy plan at UFC Nashville. Rob Font’s long reach and lunchbox fists were.

The crowd loudly booed Sandhagen following his 50-45 shutout of Font in the main event of Saturday’s fight card. And while he regretted not being able to give them the show they wanted, he ultimately felt justified in taking the approach he did against Font, a short-notice replacement for the injured Nurmagomedov.

“I love the crowd,” he said on the UFC Nashville post-show. “I want to put on a good show, of course. To me, that’s beautiful martial arts. ... I know that the people want to see blood. That’s how it is. I’ve given them plenty of blood in the past. This is the way I had to win tonight.”

Sandhagen felt even more compelled to wrestle after aggravating a long-running tricep injury in the first round of the fight. At one point in his training camp, he wondered if he would have to withdraw. Instead, he took the risk that he could get through.

“It’s kind of funny,” he said at the post-fight press conference. “The fans were booing, but the reason almost that it was the way it was is because I really wanted to be there for them.”

One member of the crowd, UFC bantamweight champ Aljamain Sterling, seemed less impressed with Font’s game plan than Sandhagen’s approach.

It’s unclear now where his next move is after he defends his title against Sean O’Malley at UFC 292, but Sandhagen hopes it isn’t to featherweight.

“I like Aljamain,” Sandhagen said on the post-show. “I don’t want him to leave the division without losing. I want that one back against Aljamain.

“I think that I deserve the next title shot. That’s three big wins in a row against tough, tough guys. ... That’s how you do it.”

Sandhagen is aware that his approach wasn’t popular. But naturally, he looks at the bigger picture when he’s considering what is won and lost by taking a tactical approach.

“It’s not the most exciting win, maybe, for the people in the crowd, but I 45-50’d the No. 7 guy in the world,” he said. “The time before that, I arguably 45-50’d that guy except for the idiot of a judge. And then the one before that, I beat Song Yadong with stopping him with a really bad cut. I’m on my way to being one of the best mixed martial artists in the world. I want to be able to outwrestle the strikers, and I want to be able to outstrike the wrestlers. That’s my path. I’m trying to be the best in the world, and I think I showed tonight that if you’re going to think that it’s just going to be a striking match, we’re wrestling.”

If Sandhagen is leaning on any particular approach in the octagon, it isn’t a particular style, but what will work best to earn him the victory that validates his skills as a martial artist. If Sterling or O’Malley is next, he’ll tailor his plan to the thing that will bring home the win.

“The way I think is, where are my holes, seal those up, how can people beat me, seal those holes up, and that’s how I’m going to be the best in the world ever,” he said.

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